The clothes themselves were the least of the matter. They were a tour through Mr. Ford’s favorite Tom Fordisms: the white, jersey goddess gown; the leopard, sequined lounge suit; the lace-and-velvet L.B.D.; the smoking; the crystal pasties. There was fringe and snakeskin and the occasional breastplate — the potent mix of sex and power and self-aware shtick that emerged from Halston and Saint Laurent antecedents and defined his aesthetic.
That’s OK, given that the clothes themselves (at least the women’s wear) often seemed the least of the matter when it came to Tom Ford-the-brand. They were more like an epilogue to his Gucci-YSL years, cycling through some of the greatest hits, hitting them with a dose of Botox to iron out the wrinkles and then juicing them with glitz and athleisure — and glitzy athleisure — to make them relevant to a social media, pandemic world. TF-the-brand was powered more by beauty and fragrance than fashion (that’s why Lauder bought it, as opposed to, say, Kering) and the strength of Mr. Ford’s ability to sell the vaporous promise contained within.
Back in the day, when Mr. Ford started Act II of his post-Gucci fashion, he held his debut TF show in his first store on Madison Avenue and forbade smartphones and all photographers except Terry Richardson. (It was 2010; Mr. Richardson hadn’t been canceled yet.) Only 100 people were invited, and they were squeezed into little gold ballroom chairs.
The models — all of them women who inspired Mr. Ford, like Rita Wilson, Beyoncé and Gigi Hadid — were so close that their clothes practically brushed everyone’s knees. The point being, Mr. Ford said at the time, to make it personal. “I do not understand everyone’s need to see everything online the day after a show,” he told Vogue. He had returned to offer something else.
From the vantage point of now, it looks as if Mr. Ford were Don Quixote, tilting at those windmills. That’s the message the final videos seem to convey, anyway: a cri de coeur about the changing fashion world and the status of women, with the designer at a remove, looking in at a scene playing out in a cage of its own making, no longer interested in the fight. The women behind the glass don’t look happy; they look pent-up and addled and upset.
Karen Elson sings an aria; Amber Valletta is in tears. The requiem seems not for Mr. Ford but for the end of the world as he knew it. Or dreamed it. He leaves it fading not into the sunset, but into the darkness.